Hyder, Doug McLaggan, the SWPHI

The Hyder was just played in New York again. It is the oldest continuously-held softball tournament in the country. Last September in San Francisco I saw the finalists from the first men’s draw in 1969, Graham Sharman and Dave O’Loughlin, and both men are surprised as I am about how the Hyder has grown to be a major pro event. 

Sharman and O’Loughlin were doing quite well, almost forty years after their match, and the worst physical ailment seemed to be a blister on Dave’s foot that attacked him as we left a Giants baseball game.

This year both Hyder finalists, Wael El Hindi and Shahier Razik are ranked in the top twenty-five in the world. El Hindi won 11-9 in the fifth; Razik won last year’s final in five games. When you add in past winners like U.S. Squash Hall of Famers Mo Khan and Ned Edwards and guys like Jonathon Power and Martin Heath, and you realize what quality the Hyder has attracted.

A few weeks ago I got a letter from the Met SRA , which runs the Hyder (I was on the Met SRA board for about fifteen minutes a few years ago before I moved to Washington). They listed all the annual awards that the association, one of the oldest and certainly the largest, gives out. They have nine of them, which is about a half dozen more than most district associations. One, the Ned Bigelow, even hails back to 1928, only four years after the Met SRA was founded. It has got to be the oldest squash award in the country?

McLaggan Bows Out

Doug McLaggan died at the end of April. The hard-nosed Scot bounced around as a pro at some of the top clubs in North America for thirty-odd years before retiring to Vermont. He also was a very good player and reached two Tournament of Champions finals and three Canadian Open semis. He was most known for appearing in the first live-action photographs ever published taken from the front of a court, when Life magazine did an article on Hashim Khan and the first U.S. Open in 1954 and Ralph Morris stuck his camera up by the tin.

We had a couple of fascinating telephone conversations while I was writing my history of squash.  McLaggan was interested in the history of the game and how to teach it. He co-wrote, with Laura Torbet, one of the most underrated and under-exposed books on the game,Squash: How to Play, How to Win. Sorbet by the way, is still going strong in California and has written books on everything from macrame to mopeds.

Published by Doubleday in 1978, Squash: How to Play, How to Win is a poorly-designed but magnificently-conceived book. Torbet and McLaggan interviewed two dozen of the top players and then reprinted the interviews, verbatim, as they progressed through the various aspects of the game.

A bucket load of revealing gems appear throughout the book. Charlie Ufford talked about not sleeping, because of nerves, the night before the finals of the 1951 intercollegiates (he lost). Peter Briggs hinted he might write a novel about squash, especially about the 1975 North American Open tournament held in Mexico. Diehl Mateer gave a wonderful anecdote about trick shots and Neil Sullivan from the old Atlantic Coast Championships in the 1940s. It is especially interesting because Sullivan told Mateer to not hit trick shots, to only hit rails and cross-courts, and yet a decade before Sullivan was the master of bizarre shots and was credited as the first person to perfect what is now called the Philadelphia shot.

Beyond that, there is a big appendix of champions; a long glossary (”length: used to describe a ball hit down the line or cross court that makes its second bounce and dies near the bottom of the backwall”); and a quirky scoring technique developed by Ned Bigelow. Also, the photography is excellent and probably unmatched for breadth and depth of any American book published before the portable glass court: Barbara Maltby wiping her hand on the wall, Stu Goldstein volleying, the Manhattan Squash Club being built. Though I am not sure I needed that shot of Vic Niederhoffer’s knee.

Stan Pearson Invitational

The second annual Stanley W. Pearson Hardball Invitational came off last month in Philadelphia. Run by the brothers Pearson, Eric & Duncan, it again featured a couple of dozen twenty and thirty-somethings reliving their hardball childhoods on the narrow courts at Philadelphia Cricket Club (amazing how strong hardball was just twenty years ago). The matches are serious but so is the socializing in bad plaid. Above all, the amount of nostalgic referencing is enormous—guys pulling their SX7 racquets and Merco balls out of their closets.

The tournament honors great-great uncle Stan, Sr. who won six national singles titles, a record still unbroken seventy-five years later; and great-uncle Stan, Jr., who won the 1948 singles, thus making them remarkably the only father-son duo to both win the national singles.

The SWPHI has a nice ring to it and is a fantastic idea. I just wish the Pearsons put the tournament on wide courts. Hardball on a softball court is a glorious game. With the extra two and a half feet, the crosscourt is a knife to the gut, serving is fun again and oh la la, here is my old mistress, the sweet but dangerous double boast. The hardball tour guys knew this, which is why they designed their portable glass court in the 1980s to be twenty-feet wide, rather than the traditional eighteen and a half. On wide courts, you can still wield your wooden racquet and Hunter Lott circa 1983 tournament tee-shirt, but you don’t have to worry about Philly Cricket tiring of their remaining hardball courts and tearing them down.

5 Responses to “Hyder; Doug McLaggan; SWPHI”

  1. Jim Domenick Says:
    Jim,

    Good stuff. I’m sure you probably know this, but for the first 5 years after the USSRA was organized, all the national singles champions played out of the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia. And of the first 15 champions, 12 were Germantown members, including Stanley W. Pearson.

    Jim Domenick

  2. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Jimb- great articles and great insight, as always. However I think you’re dead wrong when you say that hardball on a softball court is a great game. Frankly it’s a dreadful waste of time because the ball moves too fast and you can’t retrieve even a routine cross court. Maybe Mark Talbott and Gary Waite can, but 51 year olds who are blind in one eye can’t. The rallies are too short and you can get injured trying to retrieve the unretrievable.
    Too bad hardball singles is on life support- it was a great game but unlike the Bon Jovi song, you really CAN”T go back .

    GUY CIPRIANO

  3. Eric Pearson Says:
    I appreciate the commentary on the SWPHI. Through only in its second year, it truly is becoming a fantastic event, with a loyal and almost cult-like following of players from coast to coast. Some participants have even suggested that the SWPHI is more of a lifestyle than a tournament. With regard to the notion that the tournament be played on the wide court, I cannot disagree more strongly. The game was not designed to be played on the wide court and is thus a bastardization of a once great game. There still remain today more traditional hardball courts in the US than softball courts (this was true a couple of years ago, so I might have to refresh my stats) so it is the opionion of the board of directors of the SWPHI that the tournament be played on the true court for as long as possible. We recognize the reality that some day hardball courts may cease to exist, at which point we would shift to the softball court by necessity. However, until that day comes we will play the game as it is traditionally meant to be played. We are not looking for progressive measures or compromises. We are not looking to take another step to make our beloved game more like the international game, which all but extincted the game of hardball. We are taking a bold step, that nobody else in the United States seems willing to take, to preserve what just 15 years ago was the standard. I am not knocking the merits of harball on the wide court. I have recently learned that it is a good game and I look forward to competing in my first tournament on the wide court in next month’s Woodruff Nee, but for as long as I am the director of the SWPHI it will be an invitational event contested on the narrow court. And for that matter, as long as I am on the board of the Hardball Association I will insist that the national championship continue to be played on the proper court. Lets not render our existing real estate valuless by failing to utilize it for its stated purpose.
  4. Wilford Smith Says:
    I’m almost a year late here, but hardly a day goes by without me thinking of Doug McLaggan.

    I met him at the University Club in the 70’s. He taught me to play, and for a long stretch of time back then, I would take two lessons a week from Doug. It always was the highlight of my day. The squash was wonderful to be sure, but the stories were better. In all that has been written about Doug, no one has mentioned what a great storyteller he was.

    One of the best, as I recall, was about Doug in the Royal Marines in Sicily during World War II. Doug’s platoon was ambushed and totally wiped out, except for Doug. He had been left for dead and woke up two hours later underneath three bodies. Hearing him tell the story made you shiver.

  5. Ian Douglas McLaggan Says:
    How wonderful it is to read great things about my dad. Thanks Bill for the story. I have wonderful memories of The University Club where I spent a number of years watching the master. He was a true gentleman.

One thought on “Hyder, Doug McLaggan, the SWPHI”

  1. I learned my squash from Doug M. at the University Club in Chicago. He quickly understand that I have the foot-quickness of an elephant, but that the Lord had blessed me with the best hand-eye coordination he had encountered (his words not mine). Accordingly he taught me to be the best “slop-shot” man I have ever encountered (other than Doug, of course). I was never in a league with my Deefield classmate, Tom Poor (or other DA legends, Henri Saluan, Charlie Ufford, Bob Hetherington, etc.) but I could play even with some of the top women in the country.

    If we are remembering the other Doug, in addition to his teaching prowess, we must cite the factoid that he was the only man EVER to defeat Hashim Khan in his prime! That alone, should land him in the hall of fame!

    PS: Great hands and slow feet will only take you so far. The hightlight of my career was winning the Most Improved Player at UC Chicago.

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